The Trust Factor

Guest post by Sikandar Sardesai, an experienced editor and teacher, currently engaged in spiritual care of the elderly.

Twentyfive years ago, I travelled abroad from India for the first time. After a chance meeting with the Executive Director of a news agency in Hongkong, I’d been invited there to work as an Editor. The offer was verbal. I had no written contract. Also, I’d been told I didn’t need a visa for Hongkong; that I would get it on arrival at the airport. Hongkong then was still a British territory.

I approached the immigration official at the Hongkong airport with quite a bit of trepidation. Would I be allowed to enter Hongkong? Would I be allowed to work in Hongkong? I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. The British immigration official listened to my reasons for visiting Hongkong (employment at a news agency) and stamped my passport with an entry visa.

In the weeks that followed, I filled in the requisite forms, had them countersigned by my employer, and without further ado I was able to get a Hongkong identity card that allowed me to reside and work in the territory. How often did I have to go to Immigration Department? Just once.

I marvelled at the trust I was accorded. I felt good about myself and my new temporary home. I was happy to live and work in Hongkong.

Fast forward a few years and I was back in India. While in Hongkong, I had used some of my earnings to buy India Development Bonds — India was entering a new phase of growth with Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister. I saw it as the patriotic thing to do. However, back in India, when the time came to redeem the bonds, I was in for a rude shock.

It was my money after all, I thought. There shouldn’t be any problem cashing the bonds. I had forgotten that I was not in Hongkong any more. Bank officials and others I approached to redeem the bonds treated me with suspicion and indifference. They expected me to “pay” them first. I had to jump through any number of hoops before I got my money back. It was an experience of what Prime Minister Modi today calls “Scam India”.

On reflection, what distinguished the two experiences was the “trust” factor. In one instance, I was trusted. I was accepted for who I said I was. It reinforced my sense of integrity. In the other, the basic assumption seemed to be that I was “untrustworthy” and needed to be treated accordingly.

Do we, Indians, I ask myself, assume that we are not trustworthy? Is that the basis of our dealings with each other — at least, our financial and business dealings? Do we assume that we lack personal integrity?

My experience has been that trust begets trust. It’s noblesse oblige.

If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.

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27 thoughts on “The Trust Factor

  1. Very pertinent post.
    The integrity is lacking, most often, I suppose because the the trust is not given. Sometimes the notion to take away – which quite a few do – is that anyway I am not trusted so why should I do what is needed to be done; I’d rather do what is expected – of course I’m talking of the young learner group in the classes I go to. Trust is an extremely important issue; one that cannot be ignored; something that has to be earned and won, literally. It is also something we can do better with, on a daily basis, interaction to interaction. Even if one is disappointed sometimes, going on trust, and believing someone or something will deliver is the key to building it up, and therefore integrity.

    On the other hand, recognizing personal integrity is again fraught with difficulty. How many are truly people of integrity. Recognizing that integrity is essential to then providing that trust.

    Sir, you say it true when you say we need to start with exactly this – personal integrity and trust.

    • I’ve always believed that integrity and trust are like the chicken and egg; which came first is a matter of debate. Instead of debating, I prefer to trust other persons while being watchful. In most cases, my trust in the other person has resulted in that person’s integrity increasing. There have been a few disappointments, of course, but they have not really shaken my belief in ‘Trust, but be watchful.’

  2. Yes we lack integrity, character & moral. I have seen the best students with good social background too are weak. It is in our genes.

    • I agree integrity is nowhere as high as it should be, but I do not agree that lack of integrity is in our genes.

      I have seen that a leader of high integrity can influence people around him/her to increase their integrity. Why can’t each one of us do that wherever we are ‘leaders’?

  3. Personal integrity is most important and thats the most Indians lack…

    In banks when we go for putting the money they are so welcoming but when we want to take our own money out, they ask so many questions and proofs..

    • Most Indians say, “I am a person of high integrity, but most people around me lack integrity!” Shouldn’t we wonder: if most of us claim that we are persons of integrity, how can most of us lack integrity?

      I agree completely about banks accepting money without question, but asking all kinds of questions when the customer wants to withdraw the same money. That’s what Sikandar described in his post.

  4. A very relevant question and a fair enough assessment.

    IMHO, I believe developing personal integrity starts at home – in the formative years, where values are instilled and nurtured. This is upbringing. Upbringing happens through behaviour and not only by teaching. If children have roles models who exhibit behaviours demonstrating personal integrity then children will adopt such behaviours. The Mahatma said “Be the change you want see in the world”.

    However, this is easier said than done. I think the root cause to behaviour lie in society’s mainstream thinking and measure of success – if it is driven by possessions and money then people will do whatever it takes to succeed. Likewise if it is based on a sense of solidarity with fellow-citizens then too people will do whatever it takes to succeed. In a society with a significantly unequal distribution of wealth, lack of transparency and class hierarchies, it is easy to see what behaviours take precendence. Lack of trust is then just a symptom – not the problem.

    • Francis, you’ve hit the nail on the head! Lack of trust is a symptom – not the problem, the greatest need is of “role models who exhibit behaviours demonstrating personal integrity”, and, most importantly, changing the situation is easier said than done. However, the point to note is, changing the situation is difficult but not impossible.

  5. Very good post. I have often wondered why do we need those “attested by a gazetted officer” documents, in triplicate and a whole bunch of passport-sized photographs! Why can’t these bankwallahs and other offices accept me on trust when I say this is who I am, in person, and also submit the necessary IDs and other documentation? I understand that there is a lot of forgery and fraud that happens, but I am sure there are some very good minds out there to figure out how to effectively and efficiently catch those cases instead of harassing all the ordinary citizens who merely want their works done simply and efficiently.

    • It is definitely possible to create a system by which honest people can be accepted on trust while dishonest people are caught. Unfortunately, there are vested interests who gain from the present system; these vested interests move heaven and earth to prevent the system from changing. For example, many organisations are prevented by powerful employees’ unions from going in for computerisation.

  6. A very beautiful post and a very important message it carries. We face these issues even at work where your integrity is questioned, at times. But mostly it’s by people with spurious characters themselves. Love begets love and so does honesty and trust.

  7. SO very right.. I came to UK and when i went for a job interview , I had to fill a form where I would write about my education etc and experience .. Well NOT once has anyone seen my certificates or degrees .. Can you beleive that? I did not have to send fotocopy’s etc to anyone..

    and many other things .. for Example if i have to send a sponsorship to someone in india , it needs to be attested by a notary public for some reason.. but anywhere else I jsut got to sign the form myself and it is accepted..

    I will writing a post at the amount of pain i had to go through when my dad passed away , especially the moment officers got to know i had come from uk. It took years to get the property changed to my name according to my father’s will ..

    it hurts .. its like that post i wrote the name on the cheque.. its account payee, I was not withdrawing cash so how does it matter if the cheque had my name as Bikram and the account had it as Bikramjit …

    • Getting documents attested by notary, etc. are old systems that have not been changed because nobody has questioned this in the proper manner. This certainly needs to be changed.

      Checking of documents, suspecting the genuineness of the documents, etc. happens because, unfortunately, many of our own countrymen submit false or forged documents to get their work done. Because of such persons, honest people like you are also suspected.

  8. True – but there are instances of dramatic improvement e.g. recently opened Passport office at Saligramam where I went a couple of times recently taking very Senior Citizens my mother & another time father-in-law.
    In cases of refund of money, I have had bad experience in Private sector also.

    • Yes, things have improved dramatically in the Passport offices. In other places, things have improved slightly, but there is improvement everywhere. There can be more improvement all over if every citizen speaks up whenever necessary.

    • Firstly, quite a few people submit false or forged documents. They can get these documents approved by paying a suitable bribe to the attesting authority. Hence, the need to check, re-check and re-re-check. Honest people suffer because of the dishonesty of a few.

      Secondly, getting the documents attested, notarized, etc. means steady income for the notaries, etc.. (If you have got documents notarized, you would have seen what a farce it is in most cases.) These people do not want this steady income to vanish, hence the system continues.

      • Yes, exactly about the notary income part. I had got documents notarized for my passport renewal. The chap did not even glance at the originals. I really wonder if we need it because in Passport office, one does carry the originals. In India, everyone can be bribed. So creating additional systems is just adding to that bribing culture. It is quite ridiculous.

  9. The passport officer who came to my place informed me how there are people who resort to all sorts of malpractices like fake driving licenses, fake property papers, fake rent agreements and the best of all, fake election id. With all of these, how can we expect our system to trust us?

  10. tricky situations….not easy to trust anyone these days……one person i know confessed to forging his work experience and qualifications to get a job….and he was rather cool about it..like it was an achievement….! on the other hand, I’ve known another person who has been made to run from pillar to post on suspect of fraud, though it was just a case of mismatched signature..he having forgotten his signature on a less used bank account…. what do i say about that?

  11. Pingback: Personal Integrity and Trust | Proactive Indian

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